Canadian Court Says Trudeau Overreached Curbing 2022 Protests

Federal Court of Canada Rules ‘Freedom Convoy’ Did Not Warrant Emergency Legislation
Freedom Convoy protests
Horse-mounted law enforcement officers form a line during the “freedom convoy” demonstration in Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2022. (James Park/Bloomberg News)

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to use emergency legislation to quell the “freedom convoy” protests that gripped downtown Ottawa and border crossings in 2022 was unjustified, the Federal Court of Canada has ruled.

“I conclude that there was no national emergency justifying the invocation of the Emergencies Act, and the decision to do so was therefore unreasonable,” Justice Richard Mosley wrote in a ruling issued Jan. 23.

The court’s statement marks a blow to Trudeau’s government, which used the law in February that year to give itself more tools to choke off the flow of money and supplies to protesters who had blocked the streets of the capital city for weeks. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government will appeal.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Constitution Foundation and other groups had challenged the government’s use of the law to end the protests and freeze the bank accounts of people affiliated with it, arguing it was unnecessary and unconstitutional. The protesters were opposed to COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates.

Trudeau’s government, for its part, said its invocation of the act was necessary because the protests had turned into an illegal occupation. It also pointed to the blockades at border posts, including Coutts, Alberta, and Windsor, Ontario — the latter is a key trade route with the U.S. That blockade impacted more than $290 million in trade daily.

“I was convinced at the time it was the right thing to do, it was the necessary thing to do,” Freeland said Jan. 23. “I remain, and we remain, convinced of that.”

While Mosley agreed the situation was critical and required an urgent resolution, he determined that it could have been dealt with under existing federal and provincial laws.

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Invoking the act gave the police additional powers to clear protests and allowed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to enforce municipal and provincial laws. The government also used the act to temporarily freeze the bank accounts of key protest organizers — which the Federal Court found was unconstitutional.

Mosley wrote that due to its nature and to the broad powers it grants the federal government, the Emergencies Act is a tool of last resort. The government “cannot invoke the Emergencies Act because it is convenient, or because it may work better than other tools at their disposal or available to the provinces.”

“In this instance, the evidence is clear that the majority of the provinces were able to deal with the situation using other federal law, such as the Criminal Code, and their own legislation,” he wrote.

Last year, a public inquiry concluded the opposite — that Trudeau’s government was justified in invoking the act.